Today is the first day of Passover. This Passover I decided to focus on a later Exodus, the Holocaust’s. And the first book I read is Haggadah of the Holocaust Survivors, which has written in it “Appendix to the Passover Haggadah Written and edited by Holocaust In a Bavarian DP camp in 1946.” I will not record all or any of the details–I will only say they are horrible–but I will say that they should be remembered, if only by adults and perhaps read only once in a lifetime. They reveal the sobering truth that no group in human history ever suffered like the Jews in the Holocaust, even though Stalin’s forced labor camps and the crimes of Mao Zedong come close. There are some crimes that can never be erased, and the Holocaust is one.
I remember when I was a child I heard of the Holocaust for the first time. I was 9 or 10, and from my Weekly Reader I got The Diary of Anne Frank. Until then I did not know about World War II or Hitler, because nobody had ever told me. Yet reading diary I was struck by the fact that here was a girl that was worth getting to know. I wished I had a friend like Anne. I even envied–and this is so ironic–that she and her friend Peter were in love. For all that I was in grade school I envied Anne her first kiss, being not totally aware of the danger Anne was in. However, then I got to the end of the book. And then I found out what happened to Anne. I saw the pictures of the Holocaust, and saw on the faces of the victims the most awe-inspiring sadness I had ever seen. Never were people so filled with grief. Never were people so unhappy. And Anne was dead, murdered. I learned that there was dignity in her death: she died “believing nothing bad was happening to her,” and to the end her humanity, her compassion, lived. On seeing gypsy children standing in line to die she told a friend, “their eyes, Lies, look at their eyes.” And there my Anne–because somehow though we had never met she was mine–died. And I did not understand why God had allowed such suffering, and to this day–though I still believe in God–I do not.
Haggadah of the Holocaust Survivors speaks of “Galut,” the diaspora. Though all Jews who do not live in Israel are Diaspora Jews, and I would not have ever gotten to know a Jew if the Diaspora had not taken place, it is a place of acute pain. All Jews long for Israel–but particular those who suffer because they went through the Holocaust. Even those Jews who lost faith God in the pain of the Holocaust feel the love for Israel. This is why people speak of aliya–return to Israel. It was not meant to cause suffering for Muslims, though it sometimes has. It was meant to be hope and freedom for Jews. Even those Jews who still live in diaspora breath a little fore freely because of the existence of the state of Israel.
Yet there is another hope for Jews and other people–despite the horrors of the Holocaust. Anne Frank in her famous diary claimed faith that despite what had happened to her she still believed that the human heart is basically good. And she claimed to the heart of her faith that God is somebody that humankind should still believe in–even after the acute suffering she records–that God exists and God is good. Though Anne was not from an Orthodox home, and was perhaps not educated in her religion the way, say, a Hasid is, the roots of her faith went deep. Perhaps, in a way, people whose piety is based on love have the deepest faith of all.
Over the last year I have read books by different people who also went through or died in the Holocaust as children. The most noteworthy is Renia Spiegel. However, they also included
[From We are Witnesses, which also included Anne Frank]
Moshe Ze’ev Flinker
[Helga’s Diary: A Young Girl’s Account of Life in a Concentration Camp]
[The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister]
Nonna Bannister (though she was a Slavic Christian rather than a Jew)
King of the Children about Janusz Korczak, who ran two orphanages, one Jewish and one Polish, who died with his Jewish children at Treblinka; I also read his King Matt the First and hope to reread it someday and read his Kaytek the Wizard.
I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from the Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944.
Beyond these books I have read Ellie Wiesel’s Night, Dawn and Gates of the Forest. I also read Sheltering the Jews: Stories of Holocaust Rescuers; Schindler’s List; and Raoul Wallenberg: The Heroic Life and Mysterious Disappearance of the Man Who Saved Thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust. I have read about other tragedies: Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and all three volumes of The Gulag Archipelago. I wish there was a book I knew of out there about the crimes of Mao Zedong. However, the Holocaust has always had a particular horror in my heart. It is not misnamed “the Shoah,” in Hebrew: “the Catastrophe.” So I read Haggadah of the Holocaust Survivors, because in a sense it is about what remains.
Anyway, I hope this is not a bad way of honoring Passover through Yom HaShoah. The beauty of being a writer is that you can take time off from work whenever you please. Next year, no doubt, I will read something like the Sefer ha-Aggadah, the Book of Legends. That will be less sad. Except for supper I am taking the rest of the day off: I shall fix Matzo Ball Soup this evening, and hopefully for the rest of Passover we shall eat leftovers. Yet for now I will order some groceries, listen to some pop music, and watch some TV. Passover for now has ended.